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Green Zone League Articles

Is the Grass Really Greener?
By Garth Pearce
Special to gzl-football.com

During the offseason there was a truck load of movement across the league, with Quarterbacks once again drawing the most attention. Many teams went with some serious changes to try and elevate their team into championship contention, trading out believed franchise passers to try something new, hoping for that vital spark to alter their fortunes and catapult them into the top tier of the competition. Let's have a look at some of these major moves and decide if they really worked for the team, or if the ousted Quarterback got the better end of the deal:

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS

The Moves: I think this is where the mayhem all started from, with Kansas City putting Andrew Luck on the block as they finally got sick and tired of his injury woes and not getting a full year's output from him. He is in the last year of his contract so if he was ever to be traded, now was the time to do it. Luck is a young talent (former #1 pick) with almost elite skills as a passer so there was a lot of interest. Buffalo was the winning bid so he headed north, still in the conference but outside the division. Breck has told us he was desperate to try and stop a franchise QB being picked up by his divisional rivals, hence why he jumped on Luck. At this point there was no longer a defined starter in Kansas City, but as the offseason played out we saw a deal with the Jets reached to bring in E.J. Manuel. This was a massive change to the Chiefs setup having a scrambler as the starter, although they had experienced this phenomenon to a lesser extent before when Matthew Tebow filled in for the injured Luck over the past 2 years. Not sure if Tim is planning to keep Manuel for the long term or if this is an interim move, only the future can tell, but compared to the abilities of luck it is a down grade.

Outcome so far for the team: The start of the year looked like business as usual for the Chiefs, losing their first 3 games including the opening encounter versus the Chargers. After that however things turned around and they've since posted 5 wins for 1 loss (again the loss was versus a divisional rival) and are sitting at the same position they have been for the past 2 years (5-4). Again they look on track to finally breaking their .500 hoodoo, again facing the challenge of winning more the 3 games in the last half of the year. This is likely to be an uphill struggle again as Manuel is now injured and out for the year, a deja vu situation the Chiefs have faced for 3 years in a row now. It looks like the injury problems may have not been the fault of Andrew Luck after all, but the game plans or the blocking. As it stands Manuel has a better O-line then Luck ever had and is still out injured.

Consensus: At this point no real change, for better or worse, has been achieved by trading Luck out and replacing him with E.J. Manuel.


BUFFALO BILLS

The Moves: The flip side to the Kansas City move is the recipient team in Buffalo. With Robert Griffin III the incumbent starter in town, Luck rolls in to take over and makes RG3 ask the question "What about me?" Buffalo were in no hurry to offload his services and would've kept him on as a backup rather than undersell his value. The move to add Luck has been reported as a inter-divisional protection, denying the opposition the chance at securing a legitimate franchise QB. It ends up as a luxury move, adding a new piece when there was no hole to fill, but it changes the dynamic of the team and in most views adds stability behind center. For the odd man out, RG3, he was lucky the Raiders were willing to pay the right price to see him move to a new home and resume starter duties on the west coast.

Outcome so far for the team: It's be up and down so far for the Bills, getting to 5-4 and only divisional record away from the top of the division, but it has been their divisional matchups that have stung the team going 2-2 in that regard. The passing game is below average compared to the league and Luck is well below his potential when it comes to QB rating, yardage, TD-INT ratio and completion percentage. The positive note for both Luck and the team is that he's still healthy after 10 weeks and able to lead the team down the stretch, with a chance at earning his first playoff appearance.

Consensus: An improvement so far on last year, but considering RG3 led them emphatically to the playoffs in 2014, Luck will need to at least match that to make this a win for the team.

OAKLAND RAIDERS

The Moves: The Raiders reacted to the Kasnas City and Buffalo trade, looking for a luxury pick up of the redundant Robert Griffin III as GM Pearce likes his scramblers. A hard decision to make as Collin Klein had just taken the team to the AFC championship game and had mad skills for a guy only finishing his 2nd year in the league. But RG3 had shown he was capable of handling a passing game in his own right and with the success of Cameron Newton at the Seahawks as further proof it became a valid decision to make. It cost two consecutive 1st round picks to achieve, but with the continued success of the team that's likely to equate to 1 mid-round pick. Klein on the other hand could now be left sitting on the bench with an affordable contract for a few years (and miss some free progression) or be offered up for trade bait. In the end he was shipped out to Chicago who saw him as the future of the team which means he gets his continued chance to show his worth.

Outcome so far for the team: Currently sitting atop the division with a 7-2 record it is only 1 win behind last year's result at the same point. Needless to say the pass scoring is currently top 10 in the league and RG3's TD-INT ratio is hugely in the positive (15-3), giving this team a much improve security with the ball from their passer. He is also holds the 2nd best QB rating (behind fellow scrambler Cameron Newton) at a career best of 97.9. The teams passing standings are in the bottom part of the league, but for a run first team that is to be expected, and considering Mark Ingram is outside the top ten rushers the work load is being shared around the team for the first time in GM Pearce's tenure.

Consensus: It's a 50/50 ball at this point with the home stretch to the playoffs being the Raiders' failing point in seasons past. If the team can do better in the last 7 games it could turn into a win.

CHICAGO BEARS

The Moves: Jay Cutler has been lurking on the edge of respectability ever since the GZL kicked off, not quite hitting the star status the Chicago management were after. He was able to score and post some nice yardage figures, but overall he was rated as an average QB based on his turnovers and overall QB rating. Under the new regime this was obviously not considered good enough as GM Laurenson wanted more from his team, especially in a division containing the talented Packers and high powered Lions. Collin Klein was brought in with the aim of supplanting Cutler and bringing a respectable and consistent passing game back to Chicago. As passers go he's as big of a change as you can from one pocket passer to the next. There is much less arm strength on Klein then Cutler has been sporting for years, however the field presence and vision Klein brings after 2 years in the league is at a level that Cutler can only dream of until he retires. It is only the weak arm on Klein that has seen his value and demand drop, but after leading the Raiders to a championship game he has shown that even at such a young age he can get the job done. Needless to say the Bears have emphasized their commitment, restructuring his contract to have him locked in for the next 7 years.

Outcome so far for the team: They are looking better than last year's start, sitting 7-2 and atop the division, up from 6-3 last. Much like the Raiders they struggled to finish the season off last year and it cost them a playoff berth. Klein struggled personally the end of last year also so it will be interesting to see if the chemistry here will prevent history repeating itself for both team and player. Personally Klein has shown an overall improvement in his game, adding more TD's, a much better QB rating and better yards per attempt to give greater confidence in a yearlong push to the playoffs.

Consensus: It looks to be a move in the right direction for the Bears, provided they can capitalise on their positive start and keep Klein supplied with quality receiving targets. At the moment it's still borderline and we'll see in the next half if it is going to pay off this year.

JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS

The Moves: In a bid to create cap room the Jaguars finally decided to let Phillip Rivers go via amnesty, with the recipient team being the New England Patriots for the meagre price of a 6th round pick. Considering the almost $16 million dollar contract figure Rivers was sporting the Jaguars were lucky to get any takers in the current financial environment. The decision was probably made easier for GM Herr by the prolonged absences from this starter he had experienced during the 5 years that the veteran spent in Jacksonville. Injury was always stalking Rivers and in the end it detracted from a full year of decent results and potential playoff appearances. At this stage it looked like sophomore Tyler Bray would be handed the reins as he works through his growing pains and that of a rebuilding team. However this situation didn't eventuate as the Jags had more moves in mind, adding not only Jay Cutler, but Eli Manning to the stable as well. Manning was the first one in at the cost of WR DeSean Jackson and probably a solid move to mentor Bray and actually lead the team during a rough time, but the second addition of Cutler seemed a bit excessive and un-needed, unless you placed more stock in arm strength than awareness. The later must've been the case as Cutler started the opening two games before being dealt to the Steelers who were down Big Ben for the year. By now you'd expect Eli to step up and he did...for the next two games before being benched to give Bray some time on the field. It's a bit of a QB merry-go-round in 2016 for Jacksonville and a hard one to nail down.

Outcome so far for the team: The team is 2-7 and at the bottom of the division. They are 3 losses worse than the same time last year, but more importantly have been struggling to score in double digits and are third last in the league for offensive yards. Between the three quarterbacks they have turned the ball over 23 times and scored only 9 times. Bray has had a worse time of it than last year with a 40.2 QB rating and Eli's limited game time has him at only 67.7 QB rating (even if he is completing 57% of his passes).

Consensus: Backwards can be the only way to describe the situation in Jacksonville as obviously the youth movement is winning out over trying to win (a weird call considering you don't own your first round pick). Eli may see more starts once Bray has had enough time to guarantee progression in his abilities, but that is still no guarantee to resurrect this patch of lawn from the dead.

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

The Moves: Ever since Tom Brady's injury and subsequent retirement from football the Patriots organisation has struggled. Brady took the early exit when Mark Sanchez was brought in via amnesty to finish the year off in 2013. A year and a bit after this monumental event saw Sanchez shipped out as he just wasn't living up to GM Spencer's expectations, giving the here now, gone, back again protege of Ryan Mallett a chance to finally start anywhere. Again this was a flop so a punt was taking on the expensive old ass of Phillip Rivers in an attempt to jump start some life back into the organisation. Needless to say that experiment lasted less time than Sanchez's 2015 campaign in the city before Rivers was axed after losing 3 of their first 4 and Mallett came back. Odds are this won't be the final chapter in Days of Our Lives in New England, but Mallett will have to finish out the year.

Outcome so far for the team: At this point the team is only a win behind where they were last season, however other divisional teams are stronger this year and a small run won't elevate them to a playoff spot this time around. There is no consistency for this team as they search constantly for that ideal piece because they now challenge for the leagues' worst record and really don't look inspired enough to claw their way out of the bottom echelon for this season. Mallett is a bit safer with the ball this year but highly inaccurate in the process and not big on scoring. With no big running presence the team doesn't look destined to score big or often, which is leading to blow out scoring from the opposition.
Half a day after writing this Mallett gets injured in his week 11 game, so now the situation looks even bleaker with Brian Hoyer as the last man standing. Good job they still have their first rounder as they will be battling it out for the top pick.

Consensus: After everything is said and done, nothing has really changed in New England. They're back to the same guy they had last year and he's just not up to the challenge at his point in his career, so situation normal for the Patriots.


MIAMI DOLPHINS

The Moves: Last year Russell Wilson was traded out of Miami as they sought s different future and wanted to capitalize on the value Wilson had on the open market. Now he's been brought back (much like Mallett at New England, just higher quality) to lead this team in place of
Mike Glennon. Glennon is still raw and after a disastrous rookie campaign he'll ride the bench and learn from the experience of Wilson, but I must say this has to be one of the most polar opposite QB combinations in the league. Wilson would be the shortest at this position, standing 5'11" inches whilst Glennon is almost at the top, towering in at 6'7", so their fundamental play style will be different straight away. Glennon is a long term prospect and worthy of development, however Wilson has proven his capabilities over the past few years (especially in Tennessee last year) and is already near the top of his abilities (for his 4th year in the league)

Outcome so far for the team: After 10 weeks they were 5-4, already 2 wins more than last year in total, which is a positive step for this team. It is a rebuilding franchise that keeps rolling its development from one year to the next so to be challenging for the divisional lead is a bonus even with an almost .500 record. Wilson's overall performance is hands down a massive improvement over what Glennon did last year, being safer with the ball and more accurate to kick things off.

Consensus: Wilson has been a positive step for the Dolphins and he's already improved their performance to near double the wins from the previous year. So far this is the first real win in the changing QB scenarios.

DALLAS COWBOYS

The Moves: Things haven't been the same in Dallas since 2013 and even Tony Romo couldn't right the ship before being moved on. Last season it was left in the hands of the young guns in Ricky Stanzi and Tyler Wilson who both saw time as starters because of injury. It was the injury to Stanzi that saw their season take a nose dive and kill their playoff aspirations, leaving them hanging below the .500 mark. This year they went for more change, moving on Stanzi and bringing the journeyman of Mark Sanchez. Sanchez has all the right skills and abilities of a top tier quarterback, however he's never managed to pull it all together for a truly outstanding and successful campaign.

Outcome so far for the team: Even with Sanchez on track for his highest season touchdown total of his career the Cowboys are struggling. They've only won 3 games for the year, however judging by the teams' stat line the problem may be with the defense not being able to keep opponents from scoring. With respectable offensive numbers for yardage and scoring they look to have addressed past failings from that perspective, but need a better team performance.

Consensus: From the QB perspective things look to be moving in a promising fashion, however as a team it's not all clicking together. I'd rate this move currently as slightly above the neutral zone, adding a very light tinge of green and some potential budding growth to the lawn in Dallas.

NEW YORK JETS

The Moves: E.J. Manuel was selected 17th overall last year to lead the Jets in their new era, however after a very promising start to the year things came crashing back to reality for the rookie. As a scrambler he's not many GM's vision for a long and prosperous future at this position, however he was selected as the second QB in that draft ahead of Tyler Bray and Mike Glennon (tall pocket passers), but by the previous GM. Needless to say under GM Wendel's regime he wasn't the ideal candidate and was moved on to Kansas City, allowing the franchise to aggressively source the first overall pick of the 2016 draft and take Jonathan Higgins to be their center piece for the foreseeable future. Higgins is a promising prospect, already well skilled at the position and physically an imposing specimen that will only get better with time. His passing skills and awareness are only slightly better than Manuel's were last year, but as a pocket passer he has a more promising future as an elite passer.

Outcome so far for the team: The Jets are 1 win worse than this time last year with Higgins struggling more in the GZL game then Manuel did. He's thrown 21 picks to date (3 more than Manuel threw the entirety of last season) and is hitting on just over half his passes. Higgins had his best game in week 8, throwing for 5 touch downs in the game, however he quickly followed that up for two inverse outings, making it 5 picks in each of those games (including a shutout in week 10)

Consensus: Another neutral call as there is currently no clear improvement or failure due to these changes. The price was high to add Higgins, however in the log term it should show just rewards.


CINCINNATI BENGALS

The Moves: The last mention goes to a team that wasn't part of the off season flurry of changes, but the team that benefitted none the less from it. With Phillip Rivers bouncing from one team to the next, then landing in free agency the Bengals got a great addition for no cost at a time they needed a spark. Ryan Tannenhill has barely been breaking even over the past couple of years, struggling to keep the ball safe whilst giving a decent output (both yardage and TD's)

Outcome so far for the team: Since Rivers' arrival the team has gone 3-1 to take the division lead. I wouldn't place all their woes on the offense though as they've managed to score most of the year, but it seems that Rivers is giving them more time with the ball, a higher degree of accuracy, a safer passer and more prolific scorer. Considering the team only had 3 wins all of last year they are on the up for a much better finish and may see the playoffs for the first time since 2012.

Consensus: Rivers has been a boon for this team who has struggled since dealing Carson Palmer 3 years ago. Considering they got Rivers for nothing I'd rate them as the biggest winners out of this year's QB carousel.
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